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RTC TrailBlog

  • 'Keep On Riding' a Grand Message From Gordon Thorpe

    The people of North Carolina have a strong affinity with the American Tobacco Trail (ATT). Not only does the 19-mile rail-trail, connecting Chatham, Durham and Wake counties, represent a rich vein of the area's farming and commercial history, now it is a well-used and much-loved connector for the region's neighborhoods, schools, businesses and parks.

    But few people could possibly appreciate the joy of the ATT more than Gordon Thorpe. Even at the age of 90, Thorpe gets out for a ride on the trail almost every week. The ATT is a key part of Thorpe's active lifestyle, which also includes a mile swim every morning. By his rough calculations, he has swum about 3,800 miles since the pool opened in his retirement home complex in 1995.

    For Thorpe, the experience of cycling on the trail has taken on a different hue of late. His wife, a regular companion on his long rides, passed away in September.

    "I get up and go out by myself now," he says. "I don't have my 'go-fer ' anymore."

    During this difficult time, Thorpe has found deep satisfaction in his regular outings along the ATT. Not only does it provide a tremendous physical outlet, Thorpe says he also appreciates the myriad of people he sees on the trail.

    "I like to see people using the trail, all the different kinds of people," he says. "Sometimes I'll go out there and won't know anybody on the trail, and sometimes I'll see a few regulars. Sometimes we'll stop and have a talk about things."

    A veteran of World War II, Thorpe has lived in many states across America and has ridden more than 25 rail-trails, mostly in the Midwest and Southeast.

    "I would say the New River Trail [in Virginia] is my favorite of those I have ridden," says Thorpe. "It's not too long, and it's very scenic out there. You'll always see some deer and other animals." He also speaks highly of the Virginia Creeper Trail and Great Allegheny Passage.

    Thorpe's idea of "not too long" might be different from most others; since he first picked up a bike as a newspaper boy in Grand Rapids, Mich., almost 80 years ago, he has ridden many thousands of miles. These days his daughter, Judy, drives up from her home in Virginia to keep him company on the trail. They meet at the trailhead in Durham and ride the ATT together. And each September they take part in the Great Peanut Bike Tour, a four-day ride through southern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.

    His family has been very supportive of Thorpe's pedal passion; his Trek 4700 hybrid bike was an 80th birthday present. And in celebration of his 90th birthday earlier this month, Thorpe's family donated a bench along the ATT in his honor.

    "I had no idea," Gordon says. "We were out on the trail together, and I say, 'Look, they've put a new bench in.' So my son says, 'Why don't we stop?' I started reading the little bronze plaque, and that's when I realized."

    Reading the inscription aloud, Thorpe seems genuinely touched by the gesture to build the seat, which took months of careful planning between the family and county workers.

    In celebration of Gordon A. Thorpe, on his 90th birthday. An avid and dedicated cyclist on the American Tobacco Trail. Keep on riding.

    "That's the part I like best--'keep on riding,'" Thorpe says.

    Though he has a deep appreciation for the ATT, Thorpe hopes to see a key improvement made in the near future. "At the moment, the trail just ends at the border between Chatham and Durham counties. It would be great for them to build a bridge over Interstate 40 there, so people could continue on."

    A Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) member for 10 years, Thorpe says he enjoys reading about trails all over the country in Rails to Trails magazine.

    "There are a few things I can't do now, so I like to read about them," he says. "I find it interesting when the magazine introduces me to trails and places I may not have been to. And knowing that there are people out there who take advantage of all these different trails--that's what I like."

    Gordon Thorpe’s son, Jim Thorpe, kindly sent us this terrific photo of his dad seeing his bench for the first time.

  • City Wins Diverse Funding Support for "Tracks at Brea" Rail-Trail

    The city of Brea on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Calif., is the latest municipality to tap a rail-trail project as a solution to some of the pressing transportation issues in the region.

    A project of the city of Brea Redevelopment Agency, the "Tracks at Brea" will one day run through the city center, linking recreational spots, schools, businesses and neighborhoods. The four-mile rail-trail will create a new route perpendicular to creek and river trails in Orange County, eventually connecting to the city of La Habra and the Whittier Greenway, adding a significant link in the expanding regional trail network.

    Construction of Tracks at Brea has already begun, and the city unveiled a trailhead section at Arovista Park earlier this year.

    "It is a small start for the Tracks at Brea, but this rail-trail has the potential to be a wonderful connector for residents and businesses in the area," says Steve Schweigerdt, manager of trail development for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Western Regional Office. "It is great to see the city moving forward with the necessary acquisitions and remediation. The Tracks at Brea project is a good example of how complex rail-trail projects can be. But the city is being proactive and creative in overcoming the various funding and planning issues."

    The city has tapped into a number of diverse funding sources to take concrete steps forward. Funding from the Orange County Transportation Authority allowed the completion of Phase 1 in Arovista Park.

    The city also secured California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) funding dedicated to encouraging young students to walk and bike to school through the Safe Routes to School program. Crossing through the heart of the city, the Tracks at Brea has the potential to provide a safe and convenient corridor for children to walk and bike. The Safe Routes to School funding will be used to install pedestrian- and bicyclist-activated traffic control devices at two intersections along the trail.

    In July, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded two grants for soil assessment and to complete remediation of contaminated soil along the route. Arsenic was used by railroad companies in the past to kill weeds in certain areas of the right-of-way. In all, the project has been supported by 11 separate grants.

    In addition to providing a vital non-motorized connection, the Tracks at Brea will also highlight the railroad history of the area, with artwork and fencing made with recycled tracks and other material. According to a story in the Orange County Register, future plans include adding outdoor fitness and playground equipment, educational signs along the pathways, and connections to future and existing trails all across the region.

    "We kind of see it as something that will keep evolving," says project manager Kathie De Robbio. "The railroad rights-of-way are pretty wide."

    Updates on the Track at Brea are available at the city of Brea's Economic Development website.

    Photo of Phase I of the Tracks at Brea courtesy of City of Brea.

  • Michigan Mourns the Passing of Fred Meijer

    Few people have done more to advance the cause of trails and outdoor recreation in the state of Michigan than Fred Meijer. With Meijer's passing last week at the age of 91, the state has lost one of its great leaders, and one its most generous friends.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy offers its sincere condolences to his wife, Lena, the Meijer family, and everyone in the Michigan trails community.

    Meijer's name will forever be synonymous with trails and parkland philanthropy. Born in 1919 to Dutch immigrant parents, at the age of 14 Meijer helped his family launch the first-ever Meijer operation: a grocery store in the small city of Greenville. Meijer went on to build one of the most successful retail compa­nies in America, and one of the nation's largest family-owned businesses.

    Meijer had two philanthropic passions--the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, and rail-trails. In the early 1990s, he funded the purchase of the first rail-trail right-of-way in Michigan. That purchase became the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail, a 43-mile rail-trail that unlocks some of Michigan's finest agricultural lands, woods, meadows, wet­lands and small historical towns.

    Meijer's generous philanthropy joined with a dedicated and active citizens group to form a strong and ambitious trail community. The original Heartland Trail is now the centerpiece of the Fred Meijer trails network, which connects a number of rural and urban areas in the Lower Peninsula.

    In October of this year, Meijer was honored by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy as a Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion, one of 25 people recognized to have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement over the past quarter century.

    As evident as his generosity was Meijer's pride in his native state and love for its open spaces. His belief in outdoor recreation as a key to satisfaction and happiness was at the core of his support of trails. "Ninety-five percent of folks live in the city," he said, "and never get to experience the rural areas surrounding them."

    Thanks to the philanthropy and vision of Fred and Lena, millions of Americans now have the opportunity to enjoy the respite that Michigan's trails system offers. He also created the first endow­ment fund in Michigan for the maintenance of trails, to ensure the trail system he created continues to be a valuable asset for generations of Americans to come.

    Photo of Fred Meijer, with fellow Michigan trails advocate Carolyn Kane, courtesy of Carolyn Kane.

  • As Mayor and Advocate, Darwin Hindman Made His Mark In Missouri

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration in October, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. We will be posting a blog story on each of the honorees during the coming weeks. Today we pay tribute to Darwin Hindman, who as a mayor and passionate advocate was a pioneer for non-motorized transportation in his native Missouri.

    "My father was a professor of physical education, so I was always a great believer in people being active and having recreation in their lives," Darwin Hindman said in an interview with Rails to Trails magazine earlier this year. "I recognized that walking and bicycling were wonderful forms of recreation. Yet we weren't building our cities to provide those opportunities."

    This statement reflects an ethos that inspired the former mayor of Columbia, Mo., in a lifelong campaign for active living and walkable and bikeable communities.

    As a lawyer and citizen activist in the 1980s, he helped convince then-Missouri Governor John Ashcroft and the state legislature to convert an unused rail line into what is now one of the most recognizable and successful rail-trails in the country: the 237-mile Katy Trail State Park.

    Rather than bemoan a landscape that he saw as limiting recreation and transportation options, Hindman set his mind to change it. As a five-term mayor of his hometown, he worked tirelessly to expand Columbia's system of trails, bike lanes and parks. Hindman is credited with the con­struction of nearly 100 miles of side trails, pedways and bike paths that have made Columbia one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in the nation.

    "Developing rail-trails always depends on a combination of political leadership and citizen leadership," Hindman says. In Missouri, Hindman was the link between the two, and his success is evident in the ever-improving non-motorized landscape of the state.

    Hindman was also instrumental in securing a $25 million federal grant under the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program--for which RTC was the lead advocate and currently helps administer--to help Columbia develop a multi-modal trans­portation system. As a result of his efforts, Columbia is consistently rated one of America's most livable communities.

    But one of things for which Hindman is most admired is that not only does he talk the talk, he also rides the bike. At 78, he still rides every day, pedaling around town on a modified mountain bike which he has tweaked to best suit his active life. It has given him a working insight into the concrete impact of trails, bike lanes and footpaths in communities like Columbia.

    Hindman has been honored with the Leader­ship for Healthy Communities award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the League of American Bicyclists. In 2010 he was recognized by First Lady Michelle Obama for his efforts to build a bicycle friendly community.

    Hindman dedicated his $1,000 Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion grant to the Missouri State Parks Foundation, in support of the Katy Trail State Park.

    Photo of Darwin Hindman receiving his Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion award from RTC President Keith Laughlin by Scott Stark/RTC.

  • Southern Nevada Announces New Trails to Showcase Local Landscape

    There was some great news for the people of Nevada when the city of Henderson held its National Trails Day celebration last month.

    Organizers used the annual trails showcase to announce the completion of the River Mountain Loop Trail, a 38-mile rail-trail looping around the River Mountains and connecting Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Hoover Dam, Boulder City, Henderson and Lake Las Vegas.

    A record crowd of more than 3,000 also heard that plans are under way for a trail loop around the Las Vegas Valley, connecting renowned recreational spots such as Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and Lake Mead. This proposed trail will be an incredible opportunity for residents and tourists to get outdoors and experience the beautiful landscapes of southern Nevada.

    The morning kicked off with a one-mile Family Fun Walk, and visitors of all ages stopped by the exhibits and booths to learn about trails in the Las Vegas Valley. Nurses from four Clark County School Districts wrote "nature prescriptions," encouraging families to spend time together outdoors as a way to encourage healthy lifestyles.

    Photo of River Mountain Loop Trail courtesy of TrailLink.com

    Photo of Family Fun Walk courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

     

     

  • 'Cockeyed Optimist' Peter Harnik Honored as Rail-Trail Champion

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration in October, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. We will be posting a blog story on each of the honorees during the coming weeks. Today we recognize the enduring legacy of Peter Harnik, who, along with friend and colleague David Burwell, founded RTC in 1986.

    Peter Harnik's name is inextricably connected with the formation of RTC. A self-described "bicycle enthusiast and cockeyed optimist," Harnik's first introduction to rail-trails came during a failed quest to close Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C., to automobiles.

    Still determined to build a landscape more open to cycling and walking, Harnik began researching Seattle's Burke-Gilman Trail and the Elroy-Sparta State Trail in Wisconsin. His subsequent article for Environmental Action magazine, "I've Been Walking on the Railroad," in 1982, is one of the key treatises in the formation of a rail-trail movement in America.

    Three years later, Harnik joined David Burwell in founding RTC.

    At that same time he co-founded the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail. After 10 years as RTC program director and vice president for programs, during which time he walked 137 different rail-trails, he left to become director of the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land.

    As a published author and speaker, Harnik continues to advocate for the benefits of trails and green spaces to modern communities. His latest book, Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities, features a chapter on rail-trails, and a photo of New York's High Line graces the cover. Harnik is currently at work on a book blending rail-trails, railroads and bicycling.

    Harnik awarded the Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion grant given in his honor to the Metropolitan Branch Trail Committee of the Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association, reflecting his strong belief in their mission to build a strong culture of community ownership around the trail.

    Photo of Peter Harnik at RTC's 25th Anniversary celebration by RTC.

  • Garmin Releases New Version of RTC's Digital Trails Maps

    Hands up if your old trail guide book or topographic trail map is looking a little worse for wear? The landscape changed a bit since you bought the now dog-eared copy back in 1981?

    Though getting out and enjoying a trail is a timeless joy for all ages, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and our good friends at Garmin are using 2011 technology to make it even easier to do so.

    Last month Garmin released version 3.00 of our Geographic Information System (GIS) maps, which you can download to a Garmin portable device and take with you on your trails adventure. They include all the latest information about access points, topography and trail features, using RTC's own GIS data in six regions covering the United States.

    Each region is just $9.99 to download. For those of you who have been using our popular trails-finder website, TrailLink.com, our downloadable trail maps and data allow you access to all the same information, and more, without requiring an internet connection. Very cool.

    For more information about RTC's GIS maps, visit TrailLink.com and click on the Garmin banner at the top of the page.

     

  • New Trail Project the Key to Toledo's Transportation Future

    The city of Toledo in northern Ohio is on the verge of greatly expanding its transportation capacity, with the recent purchase of an abandoned rail corridor through the city for conversion to rail-trail.

    In a series of deals completed late last month, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) arranged the purchase of an 11.6-mile rail corridor from CSX Transportation, Inc. The majority of the funding for the $6.5 million purchase came from federal transportation funds allocated with the support of Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-9) in the last highway reauthorization bill (SAFETEA-LU), which passed Congress in 2005. Congresswoman Kaptur was recognized by many involved with the project as being critical to its progress.

    Connecting three University of Toledo campuses and numerous parks and trail systems, the Westside Rail-to-Trail will provide significant commuting and recreational opportunities for both residents and students.

    "Trails enhance recreation and advance the cause of wellness-both are important attributes to quality of life in a vibrant community," Congresswoman Kaptur said in announcing the sale. "I'm thrilled to know that generations from now, families will look back and thank the Trust for Public Land and all our local partners for building our community forward."

    Partnerships were certainly a key to the sale going forward. Ownership of the corridor is shared by Metroparks of the Toledo Area, the Wood County Port Authority, the city of Toledo, the University of Toledo and the Wood County Park District. TPL also facilitated the sale of the Maumee River bridge, along the southern section of the trail, directly from CSX to Wood County Port Authority.

    The Westside Rail-to-Trail is at the core of Toledo transportation plan. When developed, it will connect college campuses, community parks, other local trail systems and numerous schools and neighborhoods. Tens of thousands of people within the city of Toledo and Lucas and Wood Counties will have access to the trail.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Eric Oberg, manager of trail development for the Midwest Regional Office, says what makes the Westside Rail to Trail corridor particularly interesting is that it runs north and south in an area of the country where most rail-trails run east to west.

    "The pattern of development, particularly in the Midwest, was typically to cluster industry around the river, which usually meant north-south corridors were very densely developed," he says. "This corridor is a great illustration of how, even among dense industrial development, it is still possible to make room for open space and active transportation networks."

    The Westside Rail-to-Trail will one day complement existing east-west connectors through the city, including the Anthony Wayne Trail, University Parks Trail and the River Road Bike Route.

    During the coming weeks, a coordinating committee comprised of the five ownership partners and Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments staff will begin to design a development plan. Like all major transportation improvements, these projects do not happen overnight. It is hoped that construction of some portion of the Westside Rail-to-Trail will begin within the next five years, with full development scheduled in the next 20 years.

     

  • Just Outside Boston, Support Builds for Bay Colony Rail Trail

    In Norfolk County, Mass., momentum is growing behind plans to construct a seven-mile rail-trail linking the towns of Medfield, Dover and Needham, about 12 miles southwest of Boston.

    Organizers this week announced they were seeking interested residents to form a study committee to advance plans for the Bay Colony Rail Trail, to be developed along an inactive section of the Bay Colony Railroad.

    In a story in the Boston Globe, Christian Donner, a member of the nonprofit Bay Colony Rail Trail organization (BCRT), said the study committee would generate recommendations before a town vote next year on whether to support such a project.

    The idea of reusing the out-of-service rail line was first raised in 2008, when Tad Staley started Needham Bikes, a bike advocacy and information sharing group, and began soliciting ideas for promoting cycling in the county.

    Support for the rail-trail has grown quickly since then. In the summer of 2009, the Bay Colony Rail Trail plan was discussed at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation's Trails and Greenways meeting. A few weeks later, the inaugural BCRT meeting brought together key officials, experts and interested parties.

    In the world of rail-trail development, that timetable equates to rapid progress. Typically, such projects take anywhere from five to 25 years to bring to fruition. According to Donner, similar trail study committees have already been established in Dover and Needham-a critical point for support in Medfield as one of the keys to the project's success will be ensuring the three towns are on the same page. As one Medfield Selectman said recently, a trail built in one town that doesn't continue at the next would be "a path that goes nowhere."

    One of the remarkable aspects of the plan to create a rail-trail is the apparent support of the company that owns the line, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). While the corridor has not been officially abandoned, the Bay Colony Rail Trail group reports that MBTA has indicated it would be willing to lease the land to the towns for 85 years, at no cost.

    Staley, now BCRT president says that following the Medfield Board of Selectman's vote to form a study committee, the project is at a critical juncture. "We're expecting a big promotional push in the coming months, as the three towns along the corridor look closely at the prospect of a trail," he says, adding that his group was in the process of producing informational brochures and a promotional video on the trail.

    A town vote on the trail will likely be held in May of next year.

    If you are interested in supporting the Bay Colony Rail Trail project, visit baycolonyrailtrail.org for contact information.

    Photos courtesy of Bay Colony Rail Trail

  • Upcoming Corridor Abandonments in Four Southern States

    Recently, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy learned of several upcoming railroad corridor abandonments in the South. We are providing you with this information so you may take advantage of the opportunity to develop a real regional asset--a multi-use trail that can accommodate hikers, bikers, equestrians and other appropriate uses.

    If you believe one of these corridors is suitable for trail use, we strongly urge you, or an appropriate local, regional or state agency or organization, to take action now. You can file a "boiler-plate" letter with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) and the abandoning railroad using respective STB docket number, listed below. Filing this letter does not commit you (or the agency which files) to acquire this corridor; it merely gives you time to develop a rail-trail proposal and undertake negotiations with the railroad.

    The corridors are:

    Alabama
    On or about October 21, 2011, CSX Transportation, Inc. filed for the abandonment of 1.5 miles of track within Hybart in Monroe County. The filing for this corridor, which includes a map, is posted here. According to the information we have received, you have until November 18, 2011 to file this letter. The STB Docket number for this filing is AB-55 (sub-no. 713x).

    Arkansas
    On October 27, 2011, the Caddo Valley Railroad Company filed for abandonment of the 32.2-mile corridor in Montgomery and Pike counties. This corridor is west of Hot Springs. The filing for this corridor, which includes a map, is posted here. According to the information we received, you have until November 23, 2011 to file railbanking request letter. The STB docket number for this filing is AB-1076 (sub-no. 0X).

    On October 27, 2011, the Caddo Valley Railroad Company also filed for abandonment of a 17.55-mile corridor in Pike and Clark counties. The filing for this corridor is posted here. Though the map is difficult to decipher, additional information in the filing should help identify the location of the corridor. According to the information we received, you have until December 6, 2011 to file the railbanking request letter. The STB docketnumber for this filing is AB-1076 (sub-no. 1X).

    Louisiana
    On or about September 29, 2011, Union Pacific Railroad Company filed for the abandonment of 12.5 miles of track within Lafourche Parish, Louisiana. The corridor begins near Raceland and ends near Jay. The filing for this corridor, which includes a map, is posted here. According to the information we have received, you have until November 23, 2011 to file this letter. The STB docket number for this filing is AB-33 (sub-no. 277x). [Note: Typically the deadline for a railbanking request is thirty (30) days after the Notice of Exemption filing. However, due to a procedural delay, the period for filing a railbanking request for this docket did not begin until October 25, 2011.]

    Mississippi
    On or about October 18, 2011, Mississippi & Skuna Valley Railroad, LLC filed for the abandonment of 21 miles of track within Calhoun and Yalobusha counties. The corridor runs between Bruce Junction and Bruce. The filing for this corridor, which includes a map, is posted here. The deadline for filing a railbanking request letter is November 23, 2011. The STB docket number for this filing is AB-1089 (Sub 0x).

    NEXT STEPS: The STB imposes a $200 filing fee for all railbanking requests. Entities filing a railbanking request may request a fee waiver or reduction, and government agencies will receive an automatic fee waiver. Throughout the process, make sure your local government officials and citizen activists are kept informed of the project's progress. We also recommend that you contact your state trails administrator or your state bicycle/pedestrian coordinator.

    ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AVAILABLE: RTC's website may provide valuable tools as you plan for a rail-trail, including how-to manuals, a Trail-Building Toolbox, our Publications Library and the Trails & Greenways Listserv for trail advocates and professionals.

    If you take advantage of this information and other resources promptly you will be well on your way to creating a successful rail-trail in your community. To receive future Early Warning System notices for railroad abandonments in your state, sign up here. For more information, or if you decide to pursue railbanking, please contact the National Office of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

    Photo courtesy of Flickr

     

  • Barbara Burwell Inspires Son, David, and a National Rail-Trail Movement

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration in October, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. We will be posting a blog story on each of the honorees during the coming weeks. Today we pay tribute to David Burwell, RTC's co-founder, and his mother, Barbara, who inspired her son's passion for trails.

    The history of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) be­gins with David Burwell. When he and Peter Harnik founded RTC in 1986, there were just a few dozen rail-trails in the country. But during the 15 years he led the nonprofit he helped create, rail-trails became a much-loved part of the American landscape, and an integral part of our recreation and transportation vernacular.

    As a young man, Burwell was fortunate to have an excellent role model in trails advocacy. His mother, Barbara Burwell, championed the creation of the Shining Sea Bikeway in Massachusetts and worked for many years to see it to completion. Today, the 10.8-mile rail-trail runs from the ferry docks in Woods Hole to North Falmouth, Mass.

    In many ways, Barbara Burwell's remarkable commitment in transforming a disused rail line on the Cape Cod peninsula into a much-loved community asset was a precise blueprint for what RTC would one day become.

    With friend Joan Kanwisher, Barbara Burwell rallied community support, worked with local officials, planners and landowners, and found funding sources. Their success is all the more remarkable for the fact that they were doing all this in 1965; decades before any kind of rail-trail movement in America, Barbara and Joan did not have the resources and support many of us can rely on today.

    Barbara's legacy is not limited to the Shining Sea Bikeway. For just as she was working to build that rail-trail, she was inspiring a young man who would grow up to be instrumental in building thousands of miles of rail-trail across America. The extraordinary success of the Shining Sea Bikeway, and the transformative effect it had on his community, convinced David to form RTC with Peter Harnik in 1986. When his mother asked what his vision was for RTC, he replied that he wanted to "start at the Shining Sea Bikeway and go all the way to San Francisco."

    Twenty-five years later, David Burwell's organization has helped build enough rail-trail miles to do that distance many times over.

    In addition to his mother's example, David had discovered other practical recommendations for trails built along former rail lines.  In "The Shining Sea Bikeway - A Triumph of Citizen Action," a history of the trail written by W. Redmond Wright, David said, "It was the Woods Hole Red Sox that sold me on rail-trails. During the three years I played on the team (1957-1960) the bike ride to the ball field was even more daunting than facing Johnnie Hough of the Hornets... Despite my parents' stern warning to "stay off the railroad tracks!" I often bounced my fat-tired Schwinn along the track that ran in a straight line from the end of our driveway to the ferry docks - no hills!"

    A lawyer by training, David's thorough knowl­edge of railbanking legislation and understanding of the role of the courts in advancing the develop­ment of rail-trails was a key to the continued success of RTC. In 1990, he was the founding co-chair of the Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP), a national transportation policy reform coalition. After his time at RTC, David became STPP's presi­dent. He also served as the director of the National Wildlife Federation's Transportation and Infrastruc­ture Program, and the first chair of the National Research Council's Transportation and Sustainability Committee, among many other roles.

    David is currently the director of the Energy and Climate Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where his work focuses on the intersection between energy, transportation and climate issues.

    In dedicating his Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion grant to the Falmouth Bikeways Committee, which directs maintenance of the Shining Sea Bikeway, David said he was paying tribute to his mother, and to all rail-trail champions who face great obstacles in creating new trails in communities across America.

    Photo of David Burwell with U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
    Photo of Barbara and David Burwell on the Shining Sea Bikeway in 1998 by Robbie McClaran/courtesy of Woods Hole Historical Collection 

     

  • David Brickley a Trails Leader at Many Levels

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration in October, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. We will be posting a blog story on each of the honorees during the coming weeks. Today we pay tribute to the leadership and dedication of David Brickley, who as an elected official and private citizen has made blazing new trails a focus of his life.

    David Brickley is president of the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance, which is promoting the development of a 1,130-mile trail and greenway connecting the three memorial sites of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States: the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., the Pentagon Memorial and New York City’s National September 11 Memorial.

    His pursuit of such an ambitious and remarkable goal comes after many years as a leader in promoting trails and outdoor recreation.

    Under Brickley’s leadership as the director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Rec­reation from 1998 to 2002, Virginia was awarded the national gold medal award for the “Best Managed State Park System in America.”

    Brickley previously was an elected member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1976 through 1998, and he was the legislative sponsor, co-founder and chairman of the Virginia Railway Express, Virginia’s commuter rail system. He has also served as an officer and trustee of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, and as the Virginia State Committee Chair.

    Additionally, Brickley personally purchased a 16-mile out-of-service railroad corridor in King George County, Va., to protect it from being lost to development. As president of the Dahlgren Rail­road Heritage Trail Alliance, his goal is to work with other volunteers to make this rail-trail project a part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.

    Brickley was born in Albany, N.Y., and graduated from Pennsylvania State University and the George Mason University School of Law. He previously served in the United States Air Force with a tour of duty in Vietnam, where he received the Bronze Star. He and his wife, Lori, reside in Woodbridge, Va., and have three children and four grandchildren.

    Photo of David Brickley and his wife, Lori, by Scott Stark/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

  • New York Trails Inspire Big Move, Lifestyle Change

    A letter we received recently from a reader of Rails to Trails magazine provided a tremendous insight into the many benefits of trails to residents, businesses and communities.

    After reading our destination piece on New York's Walkway Over the Hudson and Hudson Valley Rail Trail in the Fall 2011 issue, Jeff Anzevino wrote to tell us about how the opening of the Walkway Over the Hudson did more than spark the urge to visit the trail--it inspired him to move there!

    "I never thought I'd own my own house and wasn't particularly interested in home ownership," writes Anzevino. "But in September of 2009, just as the Walkway Over the Hudson was about to open, I saw a 'For Sale' sign on an old, rundown house, and fell in love."

    So he bought the house, which had been built at the turn of 20th century, near where the now-defunct Maybrook Line connects to the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge. 

    "I knew that, living there, I could walk across the street to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail, and in 15 minutes soar across the Hudson River by bicycle to my office 2.5 miles away-mostly on rail-trails," he writes. "Assisted by a first-time homeowners' tax credit, I invested in a new roof, electrical service and a high-efficiency boiler. Now, freshly painted and with peeling stucco redone, it looks like a million bucks."

    Anzevino’s professional life, too, partners closely with the ethos of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. He is the director of Scenic Hudson, a nonprofit organization that works to protect and restore parkland and green space along the Hudson River, and helps communities make the most of these wonderful natural assets.

    Anzevino's story is not only a great example of how trails can spark economic and commercial investment, but also how they can be personally transformative.

    "The move was also an investment in my health," he writes. "I bike to work, banking, the farmers' market, yoga at the gym, and to town for a restaurant meal. My car spends more time in the garage than on the road, which saves gas, aggravation and helps mitigate climate change. And I love waking up on a Sunday morning, looking out my window, and seeing happy people walking, jogging and biking down the trail. At 57 years old, I am in better shape than ever and loving life on the rail trail!"

    Photos courtesy of Jeff Anzevino.

  • Sale of Disused Corridor Paves the Way for New Rail-Trail in West Virginia

    The state of West Virginia continues to enhance its reputation as one of the nation's premier rail-trail destinations.

    It is surrounded by some heavy hitters--the states on every border are replete with great rail-trails, notably Pennsylvania to the north, and Virginia to the east, two of the true leaders of the movement.

    But West Virginia is ensuring it doesn't get left behind, and last month unveiled yet another exciting rail-trail project.

    Fayette and Greenbrier counties have successfully negotiated the purchase of 16.7 miles of the former Nicholas-Fayette-Greenbrier rail line and plan to convert the property into a recreational trail. It will be known as the Meadow River Rail-Trail and will pass through some of the region's loveliest countryside, nestled in between the New River Gorge, Babcock State Park, the southern reaches of the Monongahela National Forest, and the Gauley River National Recreation Area. It is a place bursting with outdoor recreation options.

    The purchase of the corridor from CSX is remarkable for involving two county jurisdictions, as well as funding and effort from local, state and federal governments.

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Early Warning System alerted the counties to the rail corridor's impending abandonment back in 2008, and our staff drew on their wealth of experience with similar projects to assist the trail proponents with relevant railbanking and abandonment legislation. The Rivers and Trails Program of the National Park Service also provided technical assistance throughout the three and a half-year process.

    The purchase price for the152-acre railbanked property was $128,400, with an additional $50,000 spent on an environmental report.

    A federal stimulus grant of $264,000, a Recreational Trails Program grant of $80,000, and $86,000 of local matches covered the purchase of the corridor, and will also pay for engineering and construction of as many miles of trail as the budget will stretch. Rail-trail projects such as this one typically cost about $100,000 per mile.

    Phase one of the trail's construction is expected to begin in the fall of this year. Led by WV Division of Highways, the first stage will include the development of trail access at Russellville, and construction of at least one mile of trail, including decking one of the two long bridges over the Meadow River. 

    At a press conference to announce the corridor's purchase, West Virginia Congressmen Nick Rahall, who lobbied for financial support of the project, said rail-trails represented not just a recreational asset, but also a critical economic boost.  "You guys really know how to cook up a healthy trail mix to feed a hungry economy," said Rep. Rahall, according to the Register-Herald newspaper. "We can all be proud of this blue-ribbon recipe ... to spur growing local economies by helping existing business and helping entice new ones."

    It is hoped the Meadow River Rail-Trail will eventually stretch all the way from the Gauley River National Recreation Area to the L&R Trail, a rail-trail that will, when complete, link Lewisburg and Ronceverte in eastern Greenbrier County.

    Photos courtesy of Carl Thompson/Fayette County Commission.

  • Billion$ of Benefits From Bicycles

    It's no surprise to cycling and trail advocates that getting people out of cars and onto bikes benefits everyone. What is surprising is the magnitude of those benefits.
     
    In the Midwest alone, if people switched to two wheels instead of four wheels for half of their short trips, the combined benefits to society from reduced air pollution and improved health from physical activity would exceed $7 billion a year, according to a study published last week in the prestigious journal Environmental Health Perspectives

    Part of this huge impact would come from the reduction in soot, ozone and other pollution created by cars taking trips of fewer than five miles. Less pollution means fewer people would die from heart and lung diseases--an estimated 1,100 fewer deaths per year in the region, according to the authors of the study. Another part of the benefit would come from the exercise that people would get from cycling regularly--resulting in reduced health care costs for chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

    "Safe and convenient trails are crucial to help move communities in the United States toward the active transportation patterns seen in Europe," where it's not uncommon for half of all short trips to be made by bicycle or foot, says Kristen Welker-Hood, the new senior director of program for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. "This study demonstrates the ripple effect of building sustainable communities: We get cleaner air to breathe, healthier residents and more livable communities."

    Impressive as the $7 billion figure is, it likely underestimates the overall benefits of eliminating short auto trips in this region, because the researchers did not measure the savings that come from reduced auto usage, nor did they consider the climate benefits from reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps more important, the study focused only on one region of the country, so the combined benefits of getting more people on bikes nationally would be several times larger. 

    "Transportation accounts for one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, so if we can swap bikes for cars, we gain in fitness, local air quality, a reduction in greenhouse gases, and the personal economic benefits of biking rather than driving. It's a four-way win," says Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and one of the authors of the study.

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